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01869 338890

Gap Year Volunteer Visits Earthquake Victims

Iman (Immy) Amrani Visits a Hospital in Barahona

Yesterday I wrote my blog and got really frustrated afterwards because usually it's enough to get something down on paper to release but where I am right now writing about thinking doesn't really do anyone any good.  I was talking to a couple of the other volunteers and we all agreed that we wanted to put our presence to use and decided to visit he hospital with food and supplies because more casualties are being brought into Barahona every day and finding themselves stuck in the hospital with literally nothing but the clothes on their backs.  We took colouring pages and felt tips for the kids and chucked some card games in our bags because we had heard that people had been sitting waiting in the hospital some of them for more than four days and we thought we would try and bring whatever we had to hand for them to use.  Initally Yosi was going to come with us because none of us speak Creole and we weren't entirely sure what the setup was going to be but he had a special commitment in the church and couldn't come so we decided we would just go alone and see how we could make ourselves useful.

First job was getting out of the village.  On a Sunday catching the gua gua is no mean feat and you can easily be waiting over an hour to get picked up.  The guy in charge of the gua guas for Bombita is an amigito of mine and he sorted us out with a motorbike ride to a village closer to Barahona so we could hitch a ride; little did we know we would be hitching on a hench lorry full of water heading to Haiti with a Dominican soldier.  The driver was called William and his dashboard had a bic razor, a pack of matches and a packet of National cigarettes.  They were pretty good company.  William told me about his kids and wife and how he was taking the aid over with another lorry in front.  We jumped out where our routes changed and finally managed to get a gua gua.  We went to one of the little supermarkets and filled our baskets with things off the shelves that would go far and be needed in the hospital.  We bought packets of biscuits, tins of meat, bags of bread rolls, nappies and soap - not forgetting lollies for the kids.  Outside the supermarket was a pickup truck surrounded by young white people that looked like Peace Corps volunteers.  I went over and spoke to them and they told me they were heading up to Jimani, the first port of call to the DR, on the border with supplies for the people there.  I wished them luck and watched them drive off and we picked up our bags and headed to the hospital.

On arrival there were Dominican Red Cross Volunteers with their uniforms at the entrance.  They were stopping people from going in because people from the bateys had been turning up just in case they might be able to find some of their family on the wards so the security had been stepped up.  We all had our PT volunteer t-shirts on however, so we were welcomed in.  First we went through a waiting room and were lead into a ward full of injured people.  It wasn't immediately overwhelming because we had been expecting the casualties and were aware that the healthcare situation here is equal to any other developing area in the world.  It didn't mean that we didn't feel uncomfortable seeing these people crammed in the room with open wounds and broken limbs.  Many were unable to walk and some had been wearing the same clothes for nearly a week. The lights were dark which made things really depressing and didn't help with the general feeling that things weren't incredibly clean - I can't imagine what it must be like to be there for a long period of time.  But we weren't staying because we had gone primarily to see what was needed for the children.  So we headed upstairs rows of casualties until we reached the children's ward where there was Winnie the Pooh and the Powerpuff Girls painted on the walls echoing things I could remember from hospital back home.

The paint may make Baby in children's ward of Barahona Hospitalthe corridors prettier but inside the walls are chipped and I didn't want to look too closely at anything because it wasn't the cleanest of places.  There was an awful smell of wounds and people who had not been able to wash in days.  But at least it was ordered.  Beds with children lying down, mostly sleeping or hazy from painkillers, all of them with IV lines attached.  These were the children that had escaped the earthquake and been lucky enough to cross the border, whose cases were serious enough for them to be brought to Barahona, and perhaps even from here to the capital.

In total there were five rooms full of children.  Each bed had a parent assigned to it.  An adult attached to a chair.  Cathy, mother of five month old Miguel David in Barahona HospitalMiguel David told me that she had been in the same seat for nearly three days.  There is nowhere for the parents to go and her baby is in a small crib so she has slept by his side for the past few nights, just grateful to be away from the danger in Haiti.  We went around the wards distributing food and soap with some of the nurses, talking to the parents and the children who spoke in Spanish.

I met one father, Astrel Jaques, 39, originally from Port-au-Prince who had managed to bring his daughter all the way from the capital of Haiti to Barahona for medical help.  He spoke really good English as he had lived in America for 20 years working as a chef before going home to Haiti and starting a family.  He told me that he had been in the street when the earthquake happened and that his house was completely wiped out when he got there.  He thought his whole family had died until someone told him that some of the members of his family were OK, "My babymama passed out when she saw me" he said.  Four year old Luna and Astraya, six,  both survived the quake but his youngest, Briana, two and a half, died when the house collapsed.

Astral with his daughter AstrayaAstraya had a broken leg and severe head injuries but there were no doctors available in the streets of Port au Prince so Astrel carried his daughter through the streets looking for help.  He told me that they had to sleep on the street next to corpses because people couldn't enter the buildings for fear of aftershocks.  Someone then told him that there were white people near the police station who were helping medically.  When they saw the severity of his daughter's condition they sent her to Jimani, where the bones in her leg were set in plaster.  From there she was brought to Barahona where they could treat her head wounds.  Throughout him telling me his story Astraya would cry out in pain.  It was horrible to witness but her leg desperately needs operating on but they must wait until they hear if and when she can be taken to the capital to be seen by a specialist.  She was such a pretty little girl and her dad said she wanted to grow up to be a model.

The language barrier was odd but not impossible.  For example, when I was sitting talking to Astrel the doctor came in to check up on one of the boys who had internal injuries, spinal injuries and a broken leg.  The doctor needed to ask the boy questions  but he and his father only spoke in Creole. So the doctor grabbed me and told me what she wanted to know in Spanish, I translated it into English to Astrel and he translated it into Creole for the boy's father. And then we had to pass back the reply.

Astrel was so grateful to the doctors who had been helping him and kept saying how wonderful everyone had been to him but he also supported the argument that Haiti was being punished by God.  "Forreal I lost my kid but it was about time God showed Haiti it needs to learn to love". He told me about the sacrifices; about the organ selling that was going on in Haiti and how there was so much corruption not just in the government but right down through the people.  All this because the people are so embittered by the poverty and the difficulty of living day-to-day.  I had heard the people in the village talking about the voodoo practices in Haiti but hearing a man that had lost his own flesh and blood in the earthquake refer to it as an act of God really struck me.  We talked for ages.  I think he was grateful just to be able to offload after such a traumatic experience.  Being stuck in the hospital having just lost his youngest, not knowing where his wife or other daughter are, and having travelled miles in search of help meant he had a lot to get off his chest.  There was no one else as the doctors and nurses have their Immy back in her village with the hands full with buses of new casualties arriving every day.

I think I'm going to go back on Wednesday night after work but it's been a really long day and it's back to teaching tomorrow.

Iman Amrani 's placement in the Dominican Republic was arranged with Project Trust

This report was about a couple of weeks after the earthquake hit Haiti on 13th January 2010.  Read Iman's report of the earthquake and her account of the following week.